Three weeks ago, I switched my computer mouse to the left (I’m right handed). I’d tried left-handed mousing about five years ago, when I injured my right shoulder and had no choice. During that episode, I was forced to use my left arm and hand: To pull up pants and deal with zippers and buttons. To brush my teeth. To use a fork and spoon.
Over time, I grew more coordinated and comfortable using my left arm and hand (albeit far from ambidextrous). I imagined new neural connections sprouting. If anything happens to my right hand, I’ll be prepared, I told myself.
Despite my return to right-handed dominance since then, left-handed mousing felt less foreign this time. (My new Magic Mouse is a plus.) Of course, using my left hand is still slightly annoying. I can function, but I’m a bit clumsier and slower. Clicking around websites and working with software is less smooth. It’s like having a mild cold; life goes on, but less easily.
So why am I doing it?
When I first began doing yoga, it felt odd to clasp my hands with my right index finger in front. So I forced myself to clasp only this way—until it felt natural. Eventually I could barely tell which was which. I had reprogrammed my body. By then I alternated right and left clasps with a system I described in On symmetry.
When I swam laps for exercise, I forced myself to learn alternate breathing. It was excruciatingly awkward at first. But eventually it become second nature and made my body feel balanced.
I initially assumed that elite athletes must use their dominant side to excel. But I read that Pete Rose was a “switch hitter” and that Rafael Nadal writes with his right hand but plays tennis with his left.
In Iyengar yoga, symmetry is fundamental. Not only must we cross, clasp, stretch, and kick up with each side in turn, we must stand in Tadasana and lie in Savasana with utter evenness. If we pay so much attention to symmetrical alignment in asana, why do we settle for one-sided dominance in the rest of our lives?
With my left hand, I can barely write; I’ve never attempted to eat with chopsticks or to peel an apple. Even walking the dog on my left feels less secure. So I decided to alternate right- and left-handed mousing again as an experiment. Can I reprogram my body and become ambidextrous in the realm of computer mousing? After less than a month, I’d say “yes”! The trackpad is next.
I broke my right arm the night before our championship high school basketball game, so I played the whole game the next day with only my left hand. It improved my focus a lot. For the next month i did everything left handed and it’s never left me. It’ll never be your first choice but you really can retrain your brain.
Drawing and writing with the “other hand” is very revealing.
For those of us wanting access to the less controlled part of our creativity – it might be an essential exercise.
I find that my state of mind is different on the mornings when I start right away using the different hand for everything: opening the taps, brushing
hair (feels like I have become the mirror itself and that I am now following the person in the actual mirror), pouring tea, stirring tea, locking doors, starting with the other leg when going downstairs.
How would I describe that state? It is calmer, less “aimed” and I am therefore more able to experience the unfolding of the morning. A highly recommended experience.
One of my all-time favorite drawing teachers had us do warm up sketches with our non-dominant hand. It was great because I found I made more visual assumptions about the subject (drawing from habit) with the dominant side and I was more ‘in the moment’ with what I was drawing with your other hand.
So interesting. Lots to think about. Thanks.
I used to do a lot of non-dominant hand activities when I was carrying my daughters around in a sling all the time — I had to use my left hand a lot of the time out of necessity, but found it very soothing somehow. I have often thought about trying to become ambidextrous as a general practice…glad you’ve reignited that thought! 🙂